On last night’s Sept. 18 episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, President Obama sat down with the late-night host—for the whole episode, without sharing the bill—to discuss the campaign, events in the Middle East and the future of the American economy. And, while we know that our POTUS can be funny and can do the format well, he and Letterman gave viewers a serious hour of conversation with only a soupçon of humor. Whether because of proximity to the upcoming election or because of the serious nature of recent events, the appearance was pretty much like a stump speech with prompts from Letterman and commercial breaks; with little new information added to the talking points, it wasn’t the most exciting hour of television. But it had its moments. Here’s what you missed if you gave up and went to bed.
10. Letterman—whose opening monologue was short, highlighted by an overdubbing of the controversial “47%” video, altered so that Mitt Romney is speaking about his new cologne “Mitt-stified”—didn’t do a top-ten list.
9. Letterman asked President Obama about Mitt Romney and the 47% clip (above), but the President said he couldn’t speak to Romney’s thought process or comment on the contents of the video. Instead, he was applauded for answering that, even though 47% of voters in 2008 voted for John McCain, he promised that he would represent them too. There’s nothing wrong with giving each other a helping hand, he added, but “there are not a lot of people out there who think they’re victims.” In response to a follow-up question about whether the video showed Romney’s real beliefs, the President said that everyone misspeaks sometimes but that a nominee can’t just write people off.
8. Both the President and David Letterman weigh about 180 lbs. (That was Letterman’s first question.)
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7. The Obamas will celebrate their 20th anniversary on Oct. 3. The President paused when asked when the anniversary was, but recovered well: “I’m just trying to figure out what day today is,” he said.
6. Speaking of his strategy for the economy, the President clarified that he wants to grow the economy “from the middle out” and explained the workings of the national deficit to Letterman, answering Letterman’s question about whether Americans need to be scared about that deficit with the idea that in the short term we’re fine, as long as the country’s credit rating is good, but that in the medium and long term it will be bad for the nation. Letterman insisted that we need someone to blame for the financial crisis and recession, but the President dodged that, answering that there are a lot of people to blame. “Can I blame Biden?” Letterman asked. “I’ve tried that,” the President joked.
5. Obama was the only guest, so there was an empty chair next to him. Letterman, referencing Clint Eastwood’s RNC speech, asked the President whether he would like to say something to the empty chair—but the joke was almost killed when the President placed a stuffed cat, which had been sent as a token by Letterman’s son, on the chair. (The President also said that he had not watched the RNC.)
4. The President spoke of the need to continue to decrease the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said that the nation will still need to have a non-military presence there and elsewhere in the region, because the U.S. is “indispensable.”
3. Obama on the bear-hugging Republican pizza-shop owner he met recently: “I think he fixed something in my back.”
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2. Speaking of the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, Obama refuted a claim from Tom Brokaw—whose name Letterman apologized for dropping—that the Muslim world only knows the U.S. in a military sense. The President said that, actually, people like Stevens are the real face of America abroad and that extremists who look for excuses (like The Innocence of Muslims) to commit violence are not representative. He added that the message the U.S. must send to the Muslim world is that we expect them to help keep our people safe, in exchange for the help we give, and that democracy doesn’t just mean voting, it means real freedom.
And the number one moment from last night’s presidential Letterman episode was…
1. The President on the topic of Malia and Sasha Obama growing up: “It worries me, but they’re surrounded by men with guns.”